TERRE HAUTE —
Ouabache Elementary students call him “Officer Bob,” and several greeted him with high-fives and hugs Monday morning.
Bob Hines is no stranger to Ouabache.
His wife is a fifth-grade teacher there, and he knows many of the students, parents and staff.
Hines recently retired from the Terre Haute City Police department after 27 years to take on a new role, as Ouabache Elementary’s new school protection officer. He’ll be there every day, all day, ensuring the safety and security of children and staff.
He’s armed, in THPD uniform and his squad car sits in front of the building. He sits at a desk at the school’s front entrance, and all visitors will check in with him.
Hines wasn’t alone. As of Monday, the new security initiative to have an armed police officer in every Vigo County school, both city and county, became fully implemented.
The officers are employees of the school district, although they report directly to the sheriff, city police chief or designee, said Superintendent Dan Tanoos.
They also take direction from the school principal, Tanoos and Ray Azar, director of student services.
The protection officers include off-duty and retired law enforcement officers.
Officers will work a variety of hours and may work in one or multiple buildings.
“It’ll be a positive thing for the schools and the community, and hopefully it will be a deterrent,” said Lt. Hugh Crawford, of the THPD special services division, who is overseeing the protection officers for city schools.
Hines said he was planning to retire within a few years, and the new position at Ouabache offered the right opportunity. “I know a lot of the staff, and I’m here an awful lot,” he said. “I know all the kids. It’s a good fit.”
His role is to keep the school safe, and periodically he’ll walk through the building for security checks and to make sure doors are locked.
He’s been trained in school district policies, but “a lot of this is just our training from the police department — our experience of being police officers and knowing what to look for,” Hines said.
Protection officers also will be able to help respond to parental issues, such as conflicts related to custody disputes, said Superintendent Dan Tanoos.
School principal Susan Cobb and her staff are glad to have Hines on board. Since Hines’ total focus is school security, that frees them up to focus on their jobs — teaching children.
“It’s nice to have that stress off our shoulders,” Cobb said. In the aftermath of shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, school safety has been a primary concern.
However, Cobb was a little upset Monday morning because Officer Bob “stole all my hugs,” she said.
Hines job is school security. Ouabache will continue to rely on THPD resource officer Larry Manley for educational programs, such as Halloween safety, or to counsel a child who may get into trouble.
Meanwhile, at Otter Creek Middle School, Chris Mundy also began his new role as a school protection officer, in this case as a special deputy under Sheriff Greg Ewing. (Otter Creek is outside Terre Haute city limits).
Mundy’s retiring after 28 years with the Terre Haute Police Department to take on the new role. Similar to Hines, he’ll be at Otter Creek all day, every day.
His own children attended Otter Creek, and he’s previously coached basketball there. He currently coaches softball at Terre Haute North Vigo, so he knows many of the Otter Creek kids.
“I love kids,” Mundy said, and he believes the protection officer program is needed.
On Monday morning, he noticed a man sitting in a car that had been parked in front of school for a while. Mundy went to make sure everything was okay. It turned out the man’s wife was waiting to speak to a teacher.
“It’s all about safety,” Mundy said.
Principal Tammy Rowshandel said Mundy already knows many students and staff at the school and his presence makes everyone feel more secure.
Tanoos agrees that “everyone is a little bit more at ease knowing the protection officers are here.”
On Sunday, Tanoos said he and his wife cried as they watched interviews with Sandy Hook parents in a “60 Minutes” segment. On Dec. 14, 20 children and six adult staff were fatally shot at the Newtown, Conn., elementary school.
“It was as gut-wrenching a show as I’ve seen,” Tanoos said. “It made me realize what we’ve got here is really the right thing to do.”
While the hope is that nothing similar ever happens here, if someone does intend to cause harm at one of the local schools, the protection officer “can stop it from happening or hold the person at bay long enough” until more police arrive, Tanoos said.
Last month, the Vigo County Council voted 7-0 and approved $135,000 to pay for safety/security officers to be assigned to 10 county schools. That is half the cost, with the school district providing the other half.
Also, the city agreed to fund officers in 12 city schools that do not already have a police officer assigned. The $353,000 cost of those officers is being split between the city and school district.
Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.